Thursday, March 15, 2007

Marc B. Shapiro: Obituary for R. Yosef Buxbaum zt"l

Obituary: R. Yosef Buxbaum zt"l
by Marc B. Shapiro

The Torah world lost a very important figure earlier this month, with the passing of R. Yosef Buxbaum at age 62. In fact, I can’t think of anyone, in the entire history of Torah publishing, who achieved as much as he.

There is a lot that can be said about Rabbi Buxbaum, but for the purposes of the Seforim blog his relevant achievement is the founding, and directing for many years, of Machon Yerushalayim. While at one time Mossad ha-Rav Kook was the center for critical editions of the rishonim, this is no longer the case. Make no mistake about it: Mossad ha-Rav Kook deserves enormous credit for its wonderful Kafih and Chavel editions as well its the critical editions of the Ritva, Ran, Rashba and others. But in recent decades Machon Yerushalayim has taken center stage in this area and truly revolutionized Torah study. This is an amazing achievement that began some forty years ago with Otzar Mefarshei ha-Talmud.

Who can learn today without the Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Tur? Only in this editions has the Tur been restored to its pristine glory. Much like the Frankel Rambam -- finally completed earlier this month -- is now the only acceptable edition for those who are serious about Mishneh Torah, so too the Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Tur has become a requirements for serious Torah scholars.

The Machon Yerushalayim edition of the Shulhan Arukh is also indispensable (although in this case, other publishers are also involved in producing what will be, when complete, the only reliable edition). It is possible to go on about the numerous other important works, from rishonim and acharonim, published by Machon Yerushalayim, as well as the groundbreaking journal Moriah.[1] However, I would like to call attention to what I think is Rabbi Buxbaum’s most lasting achivement, and it has to do with sociology.

It was Rabbi Buxbaum who brought a central tool of crtical scholarship, namely, the ability to edit manuscripts, to the haredi world. He also who taught the haredi world at large how to appreciate a critical edition. It is now no longer regarded as “maskilish” to produce, or use, a critical text. In fact, to repeat what I have already said, those serious about learning know that when they need to examine a responsum of the Rosh, Rashba, Rivash and so many others the Machon Yerushalayim edition is the only place to turn.

Another great achievement — and it remains to be seen if it will last — was that he was able to preside over a unity in Torah scholarship in a way not seen in the last fifty years. Much like his teacher, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, was unique in that all segments of the Torah world related to with the greatest esteem, Machon Yerushalayim was also able to achieve this rare feat. Rabbi Buxbaum did this by inviting gedolim from all the different camps, and from both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic worlds, to be involved with Machon Yerushalayim. Many of them were given honorary positions in the various sections most suited for them and there was a section devoted to Sephardic Jewry, German Jewry, Hungarian Jewry, etc.

Who else but Rabbi Buxbaum would have been able to bring together in one undertaking, gedolim with such different hashkafot as R. Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (author of SHU"T Minhat Yitzhak), R. Ovadiah Yosef (author of, among other works, SHU"T Yabia Omer and SHU"T Yehave Da'at), and R. Avraham Shapira, Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz ha-Rav (who edited Machon Yerushalayim’s edition of Zekher Yitzchak by the gaon of Ponovezh, R. Isaac Jacob Rabinowitz).

Machon Yerushalayim, at one and the same time, has projects with the Edah Haredit, various haredi yeshivot, Yeshivat Shaalvim and Yeshiva Beit El, among others. Where else but under the auspices of Machon Yerushalayim can you find yeshiva bachurim with such divergent hashkafot engaged in the holy work of editing the writings of rishonim and acharonim?

Machon Yerushalayim’s wings extend to the Diaspora as well, and let me just note one example: The R. Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor project is being carried out together with Yeshiva University and when completed will include ten volumes.

To learn more about this incredible man whose loss must be mourned by the entire Torah world, see here (Hebrew).

[1] Some might wish to compare Moriah with Yeshurun, and indeed they do have a lot in common. But note that while Yeshurun is more liberal than the typical haredi journal, and will thus publish writings by R. Kook, articles by contemporary gedolim of the religious-Zionist camp, not to mention leading figures of Yeshiva University, are still regarded as off limits by this publication.

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